Equipment

Sealing the Future: The Transformative Power of AWBs in Educational Infrastructure

Air- and water-resistant barriers are the unsung heroes of modern construction—and vital to the health and wellbeing of any building.
By Benjamin Meyer, AIA, LEED AP
December 8, 2023
Topics
Equipment

Each year, educational institutions across the United States grapple with the challenges of decaying walls, escalating energy bills for HVAC systems, challenging indoor air-quality control and the persistent issue of moisture damage. Given the existing strain on education sector finances, these concerns have frequently been relegated to a lower priority.

But America’s educational facilities, the very spaces that nurture future generations, need to be prioritized and physically supported with state-of-the-art solutions. Without the proper support, how can schools ensure the safe and efficient accommodation of the next generation of students?

There are many options to upgrade and enhance within schools. A building’s envelope should be top of mind when upgrading infrastructure. It’s the first line of defense in protecting enclosures from water damage and is vital to a building’s energy efficiency. Specifically, the key part of a building’s envelope is air- and water-resistant barriers, or AWBs. These unsung heroes of modern construction are vital to the health and wellbeing of any building, making them a key component to consider when upgrading schools.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AIR- AND WATER-RESISTANT BARRIERS

AWBs are paramount in ensuring a structure's longevity, energy efficiency and overall health. They prevent external air and moisture leakage by effectively sealing the building envelope. This reduces the strain on HVAC systems, leading to significant energy savings, and prevents moisture-related issues like mold growth, which can harm indoor air quality and, consequently, the health of building occupants.

A well-sealed building ensures a consistent indoor environment, free from external pollutants and temperature fluctuations. Improved air tightness also enables a well-designed ventilation system to function as intended for IAQ improvement and disease mitigation. Using an AWB to limit air leakage creates a safer learning atmosphere. Moreover, in regions prone to extreme weather events, AWBs provide an added layer of protection, safeguarding the structure and its inhabitants from potential damage.

Beyond the immediate benefits, integrating AWBs into school infrastructure signifies a commitment to long-term resilience and sustainability. As schools become more energy-efficient and resilient, AWBs reduce operational costs and set a precedent for sustainable practices, which teaches students the importance of environmental responsibility through tangible actions.

STRATEGIC IMPLEMENTATION OF AWBS IN SCHOOLS

Incorporating AWBs into educational infrastructure is a nuanced process that demands careful planning and understanding of the products at hand. The effectiveness of AWBs hinges not only on their inherent quality but also on the precision with which they are applied.

The first step is a comprehensive assessment of the current infrastructure. This involves identifying areas that are most vulnerable to air and moisture infiltration, such as older sections of the building or those exposed to severe weather conditions. Once these areas are pinpointed, the appropriate AWB products can be selected based on the structure's specific needs.

Understanding the variety of AWB products available is crucial. There are fluid-applied membranes, which are spread over surfaces to create a seamless barrier, and sheet-applied barriers, which are rolled onto surfaces and lapped at the seams. The choice between these air barrier products often depends on the building's specific requirements, the local climate and the project team's goals.

Installation is a meticulous process. For fluid-applied AWBs, the surface must be clean and free of any debris. The product is then applied using rollers, brushes or sprayers, ensuring an even coat without gaps. On the other hand, sheet-applied barriers require careful alignment, with careful water shedding overlaps and pressed into the substrate. It's essential to ensure that all seams, penetrations and junctions are adequately sealed to prevent any potential breaches.

Regular training for maintenance staff and facility managers is also paramount. They should be equipped with the knowledge to inspect the AWBs periodically, ensuring they remain intact and effective. Any signs of wear, damage or peeling should be addressed promptly to maintain the barrier's integrity during construction and over the life of the building.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

As the landscape of educational infrastructure evolves, it's clear that the decisions made today will shape students' experiences for decades to come. In this context, integrating AWBs addresses immediate needs and lays the groundwork for a resilient and sustainable future.

The dynamic nature of climate patterns and the increasing emphasis on energy efficiency necessitates schools remain agile, anticipating challenges and adapting accordingly. This means embracing current best practices and keeping an eye on emerging technologies and methodologies. Schools must position themselves to be receptive to future funding opportunities, ensuring they can capitalize on grants or initiatives aimed at further enhancing sustainability and resilience.

Moreover, as the broader societal conversation around sustainability intensifies, schools have a unique role. They can serve as community hubs of environmental awareness, showcasing the tangible benefits of measures like AWBs and inspiring other institutions and households to follow suit. This ripple effect can amplify the impact of a single school's decision, driving community-wide change.

As schools prepare for the future, they must consider the legacy they wish to leave behind. By championing solutions like AWBs, they send a powerful message to students: that their wellbeing, both immediate and long-term, is a top priority. This commitment not only ensures a safer and more conducive learning environment but also instills values of responsibility and foresight in the next generation, empowering them to be stewards of a more sustainable world.

Revising America’s educational infrastructure is both a challenge and an opportunity. As the pressing needs of today's schools, from energy efficiency to optimal learning environments, become increasingly apparent, the role of AWBs emerges as a beacon of hope. These barriers, though sometimes subtle in their presence, wield the power to transform our schools into bastions of sustainability and resilience.

The onus now lies with individual educational institutions, architects and community stakeholders to take the baton forward. Schools can enhance their immediate surroundings by strategically implementing AWBs, championing their benefits and inspiring a broader societal shift towards sustainable practices. While there are many options to upgrade and enhance within the schools, a building’s envelope should be top of mind when upgrading infrastructure.

Protecting schools with thoughtful, science-driven and energy-efficient building enclosures from water and air leakage is vital to the health and wellbeing of any building, making AWBs a key component to consider when upgrading school infrastructure.

by Benjamin Meyer, AIA, LEED AP
Benjamin Meyer, AIA, LEED AP, serves as building enclosure business director for Siplast. He also serves as chair of the ASHRAE 90.1 Envelope Committee, Director of the Air Barrier Association of America, past LEED Technical Committee member, and past Technical Advisor of the LEED Materials TAG.

Related stories

Equipment
Four Fleet-Management Tactics to Grow Business, Cut Costs and Boost Morale
By Christina Hartzler
A case-study of how Big-D Construction overhauled, modernized and digitized its fleet-management system.
Equipment
Four Fleet-Management Tactics to Grow Business, Cut Costs and Boost Morale
By Christina Hartzler
A case-study of how Big-D Construction overhauled, modernized and digitized its fleet-management system
Equipment
Perfect Your Materials-Procurement Process
By Maria Davidson
Seven simple steps to streamline your procurement process and ensure your materials selection is right for your project.

Follow us




Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay in the know with the latest industry news, technology and our weekly features. Get early access to any CE events and webinars.